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Significant harm

This is the degree of harm a child must be suffering (or at risk of suffering) before children’s services may apply for a public law order.

If children’s services suspect a child has suffered or is likely to suffer significant harm, then they must by law carry out child protection enquiries.

Harm is defined in the Children Act 1989 as the ill-treatment of a child or the impairment of their health or development. This can include harm caused by seeing someone else being mistreated. For example by witnessing domestic abuse.

The phrase ‘significant harm’ was introduced by the Children Act 1989. The Act does not define ‘significant’. The question of whether or not harm is ‘significant’ relates to its impact on a child’s health or development. That child’s health and development should be compared to what would be expected for other children.

Physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse and neglect are all categories of significant harm.

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